Saturday, April 27, 2013
When I was a kid growing up in north Texas, we were surrounded by scrubby little mesquite trees. Good for smoking barbecue, but not good for much else. Shade? Forget it. Suffer through those 110 degree summers without the help of a shade tree, thank you. If you traveled to East Texas, where I spent my summers at camp, you had thick stands of pine trees. They would provide blissful shade amongst the thick cushion of fallen pine needles that blanketed the forest floor and also blocked out every sound outside of the forest once you were 10 feet inside. I loved those trees. And I longed for maple trees, something we really didn't have in our hot area. I wistfully flipped through photos in magazines of maples in gorgeous shades of yellow, orange and deep crimson in the Fall. We had a state park down in south Texas called "Lost Maples," the idea being that if there were maple trees in Texas, it was because the poor things had taken a wrong turn...we traveled there early in my marriage and I remember oohing and aching over their uniqueness. Well, like the title suggests, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. You might get it, and it might not be what you want at all...!
I left Texas in 1997 for the west coast and sunny Los Angeles county. We lived in North Hollywood for three and a half years, and although the culture shock nearly did us both in, we grew to love the west. We then transferred up to the Puget Sound area in the Northwest in 2001, and have been here ever since. We bought our first home, a 1917 Craftsman bungalow, in Kent, Washington (a suburb of Seattle) and set ourselves to restoring it to its former glory. We put in a beautiful herb garden in the back yard where it was impossible to get grass to grow, due to the shade of a huge stand of mature big leaf MAPLE trees. The herb garden was a delight, albeit an incredible amount of physical work. But those maple trees.....ARRRRGHHHH! They were on a parcel between our house and the neighbor behind us, which was actually city property, an easement that had been originally designated to be turned into an alleyway, but that was never actually built. So between the neighbor and us, we shared the 30 or so feet, and watched the maple trees as they ominously began to drop limbs on her property and ours as they became diseased. Calls to the city followed, but nothing was done. A huge limb came down in a wind storm onto our garage and pierced the roof shingles, which we repaired. The new metal and glass patio table by Martha Stewart for K-Mart did not fare so well, however. It was smashed flat, or let us say to a depth of about 3 inches. Photos were taken to document the damage, more phone calls were made, but it wasn't until our enterprising elderly neighbor mentioned the word "lawsuit" on our behalf that the city finally sent out a tree service to take out the offenders. We celebrated with a nice dinner out and toasted our good fortune. Of course we had to dispatch the remaining stumps to tree heaven by drilling 12 inch holes in them and feeding them poison followed by a boiling water chaser, but that is another story for another time...
It wasn't only the falling limbs that was the bane of our existence there in Kent. It was the PROPELLERS. These are the seed pods by which the big leaf maples reproduce in their hogging the resources, take over the planet and leave no survivors sort of way. Every winter these seed pods with their attached propellers (think helicopter action from the limb downward resulting in a firmly planted seed) would come down by the hundreds, if not thousands. Then in the spring, like clockwork, every where a propeller-generated seedpod had fallen, VOILA! A new baby maple tree. I spent every spring we were in that house (9 of them to be exact) pulling up THOUSANDS of these maple sprouts, cursing my naive younger self wishing for maple trees. I now had them in spades, damn it.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Linus had his blanket. Many a child has had his or her teddy bear. Calvin had his stuffed tiger Hobbs. I have my heating pad. We all have our little portable bits of security and safety we need with us when times are tough. Why a heating pad you might rightly ask? It does seem strange, I admit. When I was a child, I was one of those snotty nosed kids who was allergic to everything and sick all the time. I had constant ear infections, and spent countless hours waiting to see the pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor. I remember in the 5th grade before they finally took out my tonsils, when my doctor wrote a note to my school that I was not to be allowed to play outside during recess because my allergies and inner ear problems were so bad that being exposed to the elements would make me really sick. I did say "allowed" but those of you who were bookish kids like myself know the real truth; I was OVERJOYED to spend that entire school year's recess and P.E. classes in the library reading books with my favorite teacher. It was pure bliss. But through all the childhood earaches, my constant comforting companion was my heating pad. My mother's heating pad, actually. She gave it to me to lay my head upon to soothe my near constant ear pain. I remember it had a flannel cover with yellow flowers on it that snapped over it. It became such a constant in my life that when I went to college it came with me. When I married it came with me. I finally had to get rid of it about 10 years ago when it was making frightening noises and SPARKS! in the middle of the night. As my adult companion it has served more to soothe my IBS, and joint and muscle aches and pains, which needless to say, have intensified as I have grown older. Now the new(er) one is wearing out too. Time to replace it again. I guess they don't make them like they used to; that first one lasted me over 30 years! I shudder to think what they did before electricity...I guess that would be the hot water bottle! Oh the cosy warmth. These days sometimes we pass it back and forth, my husband and I. Who needs it the most tonight, we ask each other? He has aches and pains too these days. Maybe it's time for his and hers models. You take your comfort where you can.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Had a nice walk the other day....through our neighborhood. Was admiring the plantings in peoples' yards just now coming out for a peek at spring. It is officially spring here now, but the locals know not to plant anything unprotected in the ground until May 1st, because there's always a chance of a late frost. But things are budding and blooming early this year. The cherry trees are already in full flower. So I was ambling and noticing these things when I passed by a house I hadn't noticed before. Well, actually what I noticed wasn't the house, but the....shall we call it.....landscaping? At least half a dozen trees had old bicycles up in their branches. I mean at least 6 or more feet off the ground, so I don't think it was the result of a errant cyclist's encounter with a tree. Let's say it looked quite intentional....an eccentric form of yard art. Now I remember my old Aunt Eller's bottle tree back in Texas, but this was unique. Leave it to an islander. Bikes are a big part of the culture here, so I guess it fits! I made me laugh, which is always a difficult feat.
Speaking of the season, everywhere the local residents have their own rituals of spring cleaning, but here they involve pressure washers and chlorine. Let me explain. Today I stopped to gas up my car, and when I opened the little door to the gas cap I saw something disturbing. MOLD. Imagine the hardiness of a strain of mold that can grow and thrive right there amongst all those petrochemical fumes. But here in the Northwest we have scary mutant molds and fungi that can grow on anything. I remember the year I discovered algae growing on all the rubber gaskets on my car. It grows on the mirror we have at the end of the driveway because we live on a busy street. And last spring a fairy ring (that's a ring of mushrooms to the initiated) showed up in my yard. If it comes back this year I'm stomping it to bits! It scared me to death; having never seen one before, I imagined a strange fungus growing in a circle because something DEAD was buried there and it was encircling it insidiously. Quite naturally, but ominous nonetheless. Or else some errant wiccans had performed some freaky nature ritual at that very spot...YIKES! Then I remembered with a panic the article I had read somewhere about the super fungus that looks like mushrooms above ground and below ground goes down deep and stretches for miles and miles in the subterranean depths. It lives up here. Look it up. Largest Living Organism. In Oregon. I'm sure they have it here in Washington now as we speak. Ick. Turned out mine was a different variety. It is so damp so much of the year here that everything is on the fast track to decay; enter the molds and fungus. And I'm allergic to the damn things! I still don't understand why they build wooden houses here. And they all have decks on them. Go figure. Everything rots twice as fast. So every spring when it starts to warm up we survey the damage from the damp season and then get out the BLEACH. Right, I said bleach. Sure, you can buy that pricey stuff at the hardware store to kill moss and algae and anything else green and fuzzy, but I looked at the label, and the main active ingredient is chlorine bleach. And that stuff is cheaper than dirt. The bleach mixed with soapy water sprayed on your house, fence, etc. etc...does the trick. But let me tell you it gets tiring having to fight all this decay year after year. Maybe that's part of why my artwork has that decaying, rusty, ancient look to it....Hmmm.
Monday, April 1, 2013
These are the things that stand out about the last few days. Maybe I should add BOTTLECAPS because my bottle cap shrines are selling at the gallery!! But back to my subject. About the bones....well, you see, last week I had my physical and besides learning the extremely interesting fact that my post-menopausal uterus is the size of a key lime, (doc's words, not mine) I had my first DEXA bone scan and it came back "osteoporosis." I am only 49. But I have learned a lot more about the condition in the past days....most everyone knows it means you have bone loss, but I think perhaps many don't know the risk factors. I have to say I was not really surprised because both my mother and grandmother had it, and I figured that was risk factor enough. But there are others, it turns out. So for all of you out there (mostly women) who might be affected by this condition some day, here are the reasons to ask for a bone density test. (And I had been asking for 10 years, but was not given one because I was "not yet 50," and my doctor told me last week now insurance companies are pushing back the date for which they will cover the first one to 65! However if you have several risk factors, it is worth seeing if they will cover you before then, when you can start doing something to stop the bone loss.)
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Being White or Asian
Being a Woman
Late onset of menstruation
Family history of osteoporosis
Having a slight build, being underweight or thin
Using steroids (the jury is still out about corticosteroid use for allergies, but I used those for years)
Not consuming dairy products (or enough of them)
Being deficient in Vitamin D
Heaving Alcohol Use
Being more sedentary in the work you do
I had 11 of these. The good news is at least I think I now have an explanation for the bone and joint pain I've been having for the last 15 years. I had been checked for arthritis and come up with only minimal to none.
Interesting thing about bones. They serve an important function in your body. They "hold you up." How often do we talk about someone needing to "get some backbone?" My own mother died from uterine cancer, which had metastasized and spread to several places, among them her spinal cord. This was telling to me, seeing as how I had always wished my mother would have stood up for herself more in her life. I hated seeing her swept along by what other people wanted and her desire to please. She was like her mother in one particular way; they both let their husbands treat them badly. They also both had osteoporosis. And they both (I love telling this story) patiently endured such an existence because they thought or believed they had no other alternatives, only to have their little "I'll show you" moment after their spouses died. My grandmother loved the color red. Her name was Ruby, and it suited her, as did the vibrant color. But my grandfather was insanely jealous of his wife. She loved to dance, and he didn't, but she was not allowed to dance with other men. He did not even like it when she and my mother danced playfully around the house. And he would never let her wear red. And she didn't try to....until he died that is, after a lengthy debilitating illness through which she nursed him faithfully. The first thing she did afterwards (she was a seamstress) was make a red dress. And she wore it to the funeral, near as I can remember. We buried her in it when we lost her 20 years later. My mother, although she constantly denied it when I mentioned it to her, repeated history, but with a different twist. I can show you photos of my beautiful mother at my father's funeral, in her black skirt, black and grey plaid jacket, and her RED shoes. I would like to believe that I already made my stand for independence when I started dyeing my hair red about 10 years ago. For the record, my husband loves it. So what if my spine and other bones have some holes in them? I think I've got enough backbone left to deal with it.
On to the subject of beach glass. My husband and I have taken to walking along what counts as a beach here in the Northwest...yes, it's sandy, but quite rocky too, and the water is freezing. But it's nice nevertheless. We have learned to look at the tide tables first so we know when the tide is out the farthest and we can look for beach treasures. The best find so far (and he has found two!) was the piece of Canton ballast ware. These were the once ubiquitous hand-painted blue and white pieces of china (from China, primarily Canton) that were so popular in early America. Think Blue Willow. Everyone has heard of that pattern....and it became so popular that in the Victorian era when it was discovered that transfers could be made of intricate designs and easily put onto china, it REALLY took off. But before that, it was so common in Europe that broken shards of it were used for ballast instead of stones or bricks in ships coming to North America. Our little harbor here on the island had an old Creosote plant, and when creosote was found to be carcinogenic, it was classified as a superfund site by the EPA and cleanup began. The harbor was dredged, meaning a lot of the silt on the bottom was dug out and hauled away. Recently as last year efforts are being made to restore the native grasses that once survived on the bottom of the harbor and served as places for returning salmon to spawn. The stirring up of the old sediment must have unearthed these little bits of history. Fascinating stuff. Makes me wonder what else is down there beneath the murky depths.
But mostly what we find is beach glass. And the interesting thing about beach glass is that the longer it stays in the ocean being thrown around by the waves and distressed, the smoother and more spectacular it gets. It morphs from something that is jagged and deadly to something that is soft and luminous. All that chaos and distress makes it into something special. Maybe there's a lesson in that for each of us. Life is not without its knocks. But maybe the knocks can serve a benevolent purpose. Just maybe.
On our walk back to our house, we heard the strains of....what? Is that what we think it is?....bagpipes playing. Our island is an eccentric little place, but that was a bit of a surprise. As we drew closer to home, we passed the house where the man was playing, standing in his yard, facing the water glinting in the late afternoon sun. It was magical. May your days ahead have unexpected magical moments for you to discover.....